A Surprising Wealth of Information at the BDIC

The Bibliothèque de Documentation Internationale Contemporaine sits on the slightly secluded campus of Unitersité Paris Nanterre. It’s a bit difficult to find using public transportation, as the archive itself is nestled into the university’s library building, but the trip was certainly worth the effort.

Julia Stevens (‘20) and I arrived at the archive not quite knowing what to expect. After receiving our researcher ID cards and receiving some help from the staff, we began searching through BDIC’s archives for information on Katharine and Frances Baker, Bucknell sisters who served as dedicated volunteer nurses, and Service Sanitaire unités 524 and 525, our two units of volunteer ambulance drivers.

The BDIC archive certainly has a wealth of information on World War I, as it was founded in 1918 to preserve war documents and information. I was fortunate enough to find a number of books documenting the service of volunteer ambulance drivers: two published diaries, a record of a French volunteer unit, and John Smucker’s The History of the United States Army Ambulance Service, which was written by members of those units who trained at Camp Crane, Allentown, PA. I have used a digitized excerpt of the book extensively to track the paths of our two Bucknell units, and the new information I have gained from reading the full book will be invaluable for understanding the experiences of these alumni.

Interestingly, Smucker writes in his introduction to the book that F. Eugene Duffee (1919) was responsible for coming up with the idea to develop a book memorializing the Allentown volunteers’ experiences. As I poured over these books in a silent archive yesterday afternoon, this small detail particularly struck me. This book has been so important to my research over the past two years, and I have a Bucknellian’s foresight to thank. Duffee’s suggestion also shows how much his time in the ambulance corps had affected him and his fellow volunteers, which to me is a tragically beautiful reminder of the work they had done during the war.

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